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BEAD Concerns

Former FCC Commissioners Hope FCC Will Move Quickly on 12 GHz for 5G

Former FCC commissioners Harold Furchtgott-Roth, Robert McDowell and Mike O’Rielly questioned during a Hudson Institute event Wednesday the pending move by FCC Chairwoman to take on the 13 GHz band in a pending notice of inquiry in light of other bands waiting for action (see 2209200071). They also spoke of concerns with federal infrastructure spending and on the reauthorization of FCC auction authority (see 2209210076). All three do work for Hudson.

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Does this mean that 12.2-12.7 GHz is just too hairy for the commission to tackle?” McDowell asked: “Is it off the table now? America's spectrum appetite is going to need a lot more than this. With only two years left in President [Joe] Biden's first term, believe it or not, time to accomplish something substantial is running out." The 13 GHz announcement “seemed to catch everyone off guard,” he said.

We’re still years away from making” 13 GHz “operational from what I can tell,” O’Rielly said. “It’s a good recognition that we need more mid-band and that’s why I’ve been a big fan of 12 [GHz],” he said.

The former commissioners have concerns about NTIA’s $42.5 billion broadband, equity, access and deployment program. NTIA’s work has been “predictably slow,” Furchtgott-Roth said. “That’s “not a bad thing because I don’t think they were set up to be writing massive checks at once,” he said. “That’s causing a lot of frustration in a lot of quarters, although it’s entirely predictable,” he said.

There’s “a lot of frustration with NTIA,” O’Rielly said. “What they say publicly is very inconclusive,” he said. “Behind the scenes they’re sending the signal that this is a cooked deal and fiber is going to get every single dime that they can possibly do,” he said. O’Rielly expects the first grants around April, depending on how quickly the FCC moves on broadband maps. The states aren’t required to use the FCC maps, which will likely lead to conflicts down the road, he said.

There’s no map that can be created that’s going to be perfect -- it’s going to be far from perfect, it’s going to cause controversy,” McDowell said. “It has always been a vexing problem.” BEAD is still in “early days” and we’ll know more as dollars are spent, he said. “Fiber to moving objects -- cars, tractors -- that’s kind of hard to do,” he said. “Spectrum should be part of it,” he said: “One question is how much flexibility will the federal government allow the states to have. Will there be litigation” if a state wants “more wireless coverage?”

McDowell said there’s a lot the FCC could do in coming months with four commissioners. “A 2-2 commission could be liberating,” he said. “It means you’re not getting to the partisan, divisive, controversial stuff,” he said. The confirmation of a third Democratic commissioner could be far in the future, he said: “Embrace that and go with it. If you do get a third commissioner you don’t have a lot of time in the first Biden term, which could be the only Biden term.”

I’m hopeful there will be action on the wireless issues in a good positive way by the end of the year,” O’Rielly said: “I’m not exceptionally optimistic. … I don’t know that there’s any master schedule from this chairwoman.” O’Rielly noted he worked with Rosenworcel for years. “Sometimes it seems like they’re flying by the seat of their pants,” he said of FCC leadership. The FCC and NTIA didn't comment.